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Stevie Stripped In Toronto

Don’t know about you, but We Want Marangi has seen enough of Stevie Johnson.

You can live with a receiver who drops the occasional pass. Happens to the best of them.

To Johnson’s credit, he eliminated the dumb celebration penalties that marked his first couple seasons as a starter. Of course, he’s hasn’t caused a lot of celebrations recently, either.

The periodic grousing over his role in the offense, the state of the Bills or whatever else is bothering him aren’t all that unusual for a game-breaking receiver.

If, that is, he’s breaking games the right way.

But if you’re going to require the head coach to sit you down for a heart-to-heart chat after your team’s most impressive win of the season, it’s pretty lousy form to fumble the next one away.

Which is exactly what Johnson did on Sunday in Toronto.

Yes, there were other pivotal plays in Buffalo’s wrenching 34-31 overtime loss to Atlanta.

Scott Chandler’s fumble on E.J. Manuel’s next completed pass put the Falcons within a few yards of the winning field goal. Nickell Robey’s jersey grab put Atlanta three feet from the tying touchdown.

But neither of those plays would have all but guaranteed a Buffalo win had they gone the other way.

Chandler gave up the ball at least 20 yards from field-goal range.

The flag on Robey was equally the result of Harry Douglass slipping on the crappy makeshift field in Toronto’s crappy makeshift football stadium. And given Buffalo’s lack of so much as a slow-down corner to cover Roddy White, coming up with a stop on fourth-and-16 was no sure thing, either.

Johnson, though, caught E.J. Manuel’s third-and-1 toss at Atlanta’s 38-yard line, turned upfield, and within a few steps was well within Dan Carpenter’s range. All he had to do was not fumble.

You would think a guy in his sixth NFL season would have wrapped both arms around the ball and, unless he had an unobstructed path to the sideline, charged straight ahead until tackled.

Johnson did not have to get out of bounds, since Buffalo had a timeout remaining.

He did not have to struggle for additional yardage. If Johnson were tackled where he fumbled, Carpenter would have faced a 48-yard attempt. He has made 20 of 21 from less than 50 yards out this year.

All he had to do was not fumble.

Maybe Johnson did not realize where he was on the field. Or maybe he had visions of sprinting into the end zone for the winning points himself, exorcising the frustrations of a season plagued by injuries, both his own and those endured by Buffalo’s rotating cast of quarterbacks.

Either way, he should have known better. He had to know better. For all his good qualities as a receiver, the ability to run routes, get himself open and make difficult receptions, breaking big plays after the catch is not one of them. We’re not talking about Andre Reed here.

All he had to do was not fumble.

But because he did, the Bills are two games out of the playoff chase with four remaining and six teams ahead of them for the final spot. The competitive portion of their season is over.

The same can not be said of Johnson’s career in Buffalo, due to the five-year contract he signed before last season. Johnson accounts for $8.5 million against the salary cap if he’s on the team in 2014 and $8.475 million if the Bills were to release him.

That’s not going to happen. Getting him to agree to re-work his deal or finding a trade partner willing to take on that contract for a decent possession receiver isn’t much more likely.

For all the problems the Bills had with coverage and tackling, they also had two long runs by C.J. Spiller, two touchdowns from Fred Jackson, two more — and zero turnovers — from Manuel, and six sacks from the most productive pass rush they’ve had since the prime of Bruce Smith.

It should have added up to a victory, even in front of the feeblest “home” crowd for a game since the two-man-wave days of the mid-1980s.

All he had to do was not fumble.

****

 

On a lighter note, Rob Ford, Toronto’s sort-of-mayor, did show up, and did so wearing a somewhat oversized Fred Jackson jersey.

He allegedly did not smoke any crack, or otherwise bring shame to his city or amusement to the rest of the world. Other than a Canadian musician’s claim that Ford stole his seat, and the photo above, it was a real letdown.

But thanks to Buffalo’s increasingly mystifying commitment to our friends to the north, there’s always next year.

David Staba has written about the Buffalo Bills, among other topics, since 1990 for a variety of outlets, including We Want Marangi since way back in 2012.


  • Sean Danvers

    I still have yet to see one co-located US and Canadian flag outside of a shopping center once I cross the border into Europe Light. Stop the insanity!

  • rhmaccallum

    A lot of things separate the good teams, the good franchises from the poor ones. One of those things is players that step up in the clutch. Players that make that play, execute when it’s crunch time.
    Buffalo has those players. There always seems to be someone or several players on the Bills willing to step up…screw up and give away the game. Thomas did it in the opening drive of the second half when the Bills played the Cowboys in the super bowl.
    Bills have been stepping up to screw it up for decades now. Aren’t you used to it yet? When it was 14 – zip you just knew there would be guys willing to execute a screw-up. Didn’t you?